French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism” in an address to world leaders who gathered in Paris for Armistice commemorations on Sunday.
With US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sitting just a few feet away, Macron denounced those who evoke nationalist sentiment to disadvantage others.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said in a 20-minute address delivered from under the Arc de Triomphe to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
“By pursuing our own interests first, with no regard to others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values.”
Trump has pursued ‘America First’ policies since entering the White House and in the run-up to the congressional elections this month declared himself a “nationalist”.
There was no immediate response from either the White House or the Kremlin to Macron’s comments.
In the week ahead of Sunday’s commemoration, Macron spent time touring World War One battlefields in northern and eastern France, repeatedly warning in speeches of the resurgence of nationalism, saying it threatened the unity so carefully rebuilt in Europe over the past 70 years.
In one interview, he compared the political tone now to the 1930s, saying complacency towards unbridled nationalism then had opened the way for the rise of Hitler.
In part, his warnings seemed aimed at far-right parties that have gained ground across Europe in recent elections, including in France, where the National Front, now renamed the National Rally, has nudged ahead of Macron’s En Marche movement in the polls ahead of European Parliament elections next May.
Besides France, right-wing nationalist or populist parties are on the rise or now have a stake in power in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Austria and Slovenia, among others.
There has been a similar resurgence in nationalist-populist sentiment from Brazil to Turkey and the Philippines, echoing trends in Russia and the United States and challenging the multilateralism that leaders like Macron are keen to preserve.
In his address on Sunday, Macron said that “old demons are reawakening” and warned against ignoring the past.
“History sometimes threatens to repeat its tragic patterns, and undermine the legacy of peace we thought we had sealed with the blood of our ancestors,” he said.
The armistice that ended the slaughter of the First World War came into force at 11 am Paris time on November 11, 1918. Signed in France, it marked the end of a conflict that began in the summer of 1914.
As the war began, most government and military officials anticipated it would end quickly. Instead, it devolved into a protracted struggle that killed millions of civilians and military personnel.
The ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday was supposed to start promptly at 11 am but world leaders were late to arrive, The Associated Press reported.
Trump ― whose motorcade was rushed by a topless protester with anti-war slogans on her chest ― arrived later than the other leaders. Putin was the last to arrive.
Macron convened the Paris Peace Forum on Sunday afternoon, a conference he has described as a chance for world leaders to reflect on the political miscalculations that had led to the First World War and to ensure such a conflict is not repeated.
Trump was conspicuously absent from the forum, while those attending included Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump plans to visit the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial outside Paris before flying back to Washington, the AP reported.
On Saturday, Trump was roundly lambasted for his decision to cancel a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery ― the final resting place for many of the 1,800 American soldiers killed in the battle of Belleau Wood ― because of rain.
Trump sent a delegation led by White House chief of staff John Kelly in his place.
On Sunday, countries around the world held ceremonies and other special events to mark the centenary of the armistice.
Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Theresa May and other leading national figures partook in moments of silence in solemn ceremonies held in cities and towns across Britain.